Eighties Zone

More classic eighties television. On this page, programmes from J-Z; programmes from A-I are on the previous page.

JAMIE AND THE MAGIC TORCH (ITV 1976-86)

Second in nostalgia value only to Gideon. The plot revolved around Jamie who, once he had been put to bed by his mother, would shine his magic torch under his bed, and he and his dog Wordsworth would jump down the hole and slide down a seemingly endless helter skelter. Upon reaching the bottom he would come out of a hole in a tree and bounce onto a trampoline, finding himself in a bizarre world - Cuckooland - populated by the likes of one-wheeled policeman Officer Gotcha, and mad scientist Mr Boo. Brian Trueman (see also Screen Test) wrote and voiced the programme. Highly nostalgic opening and closing titles, with a particularly haunting theme tune in the night time 'real world' segments.

Two of the three series were released on DVD in the early 2000s.


JIGSAW (BBC1 1979-84)

Growing out of Vision On; Tony Hart took his art to Take Hart, while the wacky stuff was reborn on yet another Clive Doig show. Jigsaw was a blend of zany sketches, animations and puzzles. The aim was come up with a full six-letter word - the jigword - taking a clue from each sketch. There was a large roster of regular characters - Jigg himself, a floating talking puzzle piece; Biggum, the Scottish giant (of whom we only saw the tartan sock and sandal) and Pterry the pterodactyl (both voiced by Tommy Boyd); the O-Men (one of whom was Sylvester McCoy) and Mr Noseybonk. Then there was a trip to the garden shed to see what crazy inventor Wilf Lunn was up to that week.

Mime artist Adrian Hedley (who did eventually get to speak!) was the main man throughout. His original co-presenter was Janet Ellis, whose job was to bring sanity to this bizarre world. When she left for Blue Peter, Julia Binsted (see also Eureka!) took her place, playing the character Dot. And a pre-Tomorrow's World Howard Stableford joined for the final series, taking over as the voice of Jigg and Biggum, and also as Gregory Growlong the gardener!


JOHN CRAVEN'S NEWSROUND (BBC1 1972-89)

News for children? It'll never work, they said. And perhaps without John Craven, maybe it wouldn't have done. The news may have been made more simplistic for its audience, but it was never patronising.

The Newsround format remained unchanged for most of John's tenure - the start of each edition was heralded by the strange plinkety plonkety theme tune, over which was read the main headline (usually something about panda bears); each story was illustrated by a full screen image behind John; then, as if to remind viewers that not everything in the world was bad, each programme ended with an amusing 'And Finally' story, a terrible pun, and the even stranger closing music.

Until 1986 the programme only ran for four days a week, although the Friday slot was often filled by Newsround Extra. Then the following year JCN received its first proper revamp - a new theme tune, computer graphics and new presenters Roger Finn and Helen Rollason - although only when John was presenting did the programme bear the presenter's name. John finally called it a day in June 1989.


LONDON TO BRIGHTON IN THREE-AND-A-HALF MINUTES (BBC1 1983)

This was a short film made in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the electrification of the London to Brighton line, which was first transmitted one Friday evening in July 1983, just after Nationwide. A modern recreation of London to Brighton in Four Minutes, which dated back to 1952, it was basically a filmed train journey between yes, you've guessed it, London to Brighton, speeded up so it took just three-and-a-half minutes (all right, you're ahead of me here). If only train travel was really that effective...

The soundtrack was a superb synth-pop composition, very reminiscent of the period, accompanied by various train sound effects. It was shown again in subsequent years whenever there was a five minute gap which needed filling, and I have a feeling a London to Birmingham version (taking five minutes?) was made a few years later as well.


LOOK AND READ (BBC1/2 1967-2004)

Look and Read was one of the longest running schools programmes in Britain, and if you're a child of the 80s, the Look and Read stories you're most likely to have watched include 'Sky Hunter' (shown from 1978-82), 'Fair Ground!' (1983-89), 'Badger Girl' (1984-92), and 'Geordie Racer' (1988-95), As far as I'm concerned, it was 'The Boy from Space' (1980-86) and, most memorably, 'Dark Towers' (1981-87) - a ghost story which featured The Dark Knight, the Friendly Ghost, and Christopher Biggins. The theme tune was sung by Derek Griffiths.

In the early 2000s, in a shock move, the CBBC channel wheeled out a number of 70s and 80s episodes as part of its Class TV strand, and ater watching 'Dark Towers' for the first time in 20 years, I was struck at how slowly the story seems to progress throughout the ten episodes; indeed the majority of each programme is given over to the straight teaching of language skills from the librarian and long-time L&R stalwart Wordy - and of course the songs. For me, the best remembered song is Bill the Brickie's 'Why Don't You Build Yourself a Word'.

'The Boy from Space' is available on DVD courtesy of the BFI.


MAKE 'EM LAUGH (BBC1 1982-84)

A children's series in which Mark Curry introduced clips from the era of silent films, Keystone Cops, Charlie Chaplin and so on. We wouldn't see a show like it these days; but in the early 80s it was still thought that children would be interested in black-and-white comedy from the 1920s. And up until the 1970s Laurel and Hardy were still to be found as part of BBC1's children's afternoon entertainment.

In the early 1980s silent comedy shorts like Harold Lloyd were still being shown by BBC2 - but unfortunately they are now long since gone. Now there's something they should bring back.


MASTERTEAM (BBC1 1985-87)

This very 1980s quiz, hosted by Angela Rippon, was one of the attempts to fill the 5.35 slot created by the launch of the Six O'Clock News in 1984 on BBC1, that the BBC were not quite sure what to do with. So we got a variety of programmes, some aimed at children - eg Muppet Babies, The Raccoons, Roland Rat: The Series - and some obviously more adult-orientated shows like this nightly quiz.

The teams of three were usually made up of groups of civil servants, social clubs and the like. A game began with a round of quick fire general knowledge questions, followed by one team member going under the spotlight for questions on a chosen subject. There was also In the Spin, where teams had to make the longest word possible from three randomly selected letters appearing in sequence. Then there were the medals - bronze for two consecutive wins, silver for three, and gold for four, after which the team was retired.


METAL MICKEY (ITV 1980-83)

Ex-Monkee Mickey Dolenz turned director in LWT's Saturday teatime children's sitcom about a rather wayward robot named Metal Mickey, built by inventor Ken Wilberforce and designed to perform chores in the Wilberforce household. However Mickey instead spent the whole time cauing as much havoc as possible, with a nasty habit of saying 'Boogie Boogie' most of the time. Veteran comedy actress Irene Handl starred as Granny Wilberforce in the series.

The first two series were released on DVD, now unfortunately deleted.


MICRO LIVE (BBC2 1983-87)

Following on from the BBC's early computer literacy programmes The Computer Programme (see also) and Making the Most of the Micro, this regular magazine show took a wider look at the growing world of information technology in the mid-1980s, inevitably featuring the BBC Micro in full effect. Presented by the official BBC Micro guru Fred Harris, along with Lesley Judd and Ian McNaught-Davis, it began as a four-hour special on a Sunday afternoon in 1983, before progressing to a monthly series on Friday evenings (still transmitted 'live', as the name suggests) and eventually going weekly until its 1987 demise.


THE NOEL EDMONDS LATE LATE BREAKFAST SHOW (BBC1 1982-86)

The ending of Larry Grayson's Generation Game left a gaping hole in BBC1's Saturday schedule, but the BBC knew there was one man who could fill it. And so The Bearded One, having recently left Swap Shop and Radio 1, launched the first incarnation of his Saturday night extravaganza. However The Late Late Breakfast Show (which actually started over four months before there were even any early early breakfast shows on television) got off to a rather inauspicious start. It wasn't until original co-host Leni Harper, was ditched along with the incongruous John Peel, and Mike 'Smitty' Smith was brought on board on outside broadcast duties that ratings begin to rise.

Regular features included The Hit Squad, in which hidden camera pranks were played on members of the public, television out-takes in The Golden Egg Awards, the annual search for Mr Puniverse, the inevitable burping gnome, and the Whirly Wheel, where Noel would ring up a lucky viewer live on air and invite them to perform a daredevil stunt the following week. And it was thanks to the Whirly Wheel that The Late Late Breakfast Show gained notoriety for ever more - for causing the death of one of its contestants whilst rehearsing the stunt, involving an exploding crate on a bungee rope, the preceding Thursday. And so on Saturday 15th November 1986, instead of introducing that week's programme, the BBC1 announcer instead had to declare that The Late Late Breakfast Show would not be coming back - ever.

But of course Noel himself did come back. In 1988 The Late Late Breakfast Show begat The Noel Edmonds Saturday Roadshow, which in turn begat the mega-hit Noel's House Party in 1991.


NOW GET OUT OF THAT (BBC1 1981-83)

Notable for not having a theme tune. The late Bernard Falk narrated this series in which two competing teams were dumped out into the middle of nowhere, and had to complete a series of challenges, which usually involved getting across rivers.


ON THE WATERFRONT (BBC1 1988-89)

We all remember the great Saturday morning shows Swap Shop, Saturday Superstore, Going Live! and Live and Kicking - but many of the summer versions have been less memorable. Some don't deserve to be remembered (It's Wicked!, Parallel 9); on the other hand there are others that weren't half bad - like On the Waterfront.

Coming from the BBC's short-lived studios in a converted warehouse at Liverpool's South Docks (hence the title), On the Waterfront was a sort of hybrid - on one hand it was a comedy sketch show, Fast Forward-style; on the other it was the usual mix of cartoons, games and pop videos. Presenters were Kate 'Play School' Copstick, Andrew 'game show host' O'Connor, Bernadette 'The Nolans' Nolan and Terry 'who?' Randall; recurring characters included Terry's Mr Cautious, and Andrew and Terry's 'Lard' brothers. However, the show is probably best known for the dubbed, and actually quite funny, version of the serial The Flashing Blade, which had a habit of making references to cotton buds and earwax.

On the Waterfront was the only Saturday morning series on BBC1 to be entirely pre-recorded, and only filled the first half of the summer season; in both years it was succeeded by UP2U, which was only significant for one thing - starting off Anthea Turner's career.


OPEN AIR (BBC1 1986-90)

The test card and Pages from Ceefax were banished forever from daytime BBC1 in October 1986 with the introduction of the first wave of BBC daytime programmes, including Kilroy (originally known as Day to Day), the One O'Clock News and Neighbours.

Presenters included ex-Nationwiders Bob Wellings and Pattie Coldwell, but is perhaps best known for giving birth to Eamonn Holmes's national career. Open Air was essentially Points of View stretched out to one hour each weekday morning, and consisted of angry phone comments about the previous night's television, various behind the scenes features, and television producers and presenters defending themselves against a tirade of viewers, notably Doctor Who writers Pip and Jane Baker getting grilled by future Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall.


THE ORCHESTRA (Channel 4 1986-87)

Channel 4 were keen to push innovative forms of comedy in its early years, and so in 1986 they bought what is still the only Israeli comedy programme ever shown on British television. This ten-part filmed sitcom parodied various aspects of classical music, and although my memory of it is fairly vague I can remember it featuring the orchestra in question playing in various different, and bizzare, locations each week. It may not have been the likely comedic premise, but it was actually rather funny. There was no spoken content in the programme, not surprising since its star Julian-Joy Chagrin (whose role was simply known as 'The Maestro') was an acclaimed comic mime artist.


PAGES FROM CEEFAX (BBC1/2 throughout the 1980s)

Memories of spending afternoons during school holidays with nothing better to do than watch these selections of BBC Micro text and graphics (remember the weather house graphic, and the living room pic which heralded the tv pages?) which took up much of daytime BBC1 and BBC2 in the 1980s before all day broadcasting arrived in 1986. Novel for those of us without teletext, and great music accompanying it as well; by 1985 we had some nice synth tunes, one of which particularly sticks in my mind, Nigel Bates's 'Forward Projection'.


PEBBLE MILL AT ONE (BBC1 1972-86)

Dependable middle-of-the-road lunchtime features, chat, music and cookery from the foyer of the BBC's Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham. Usually watched whilst waiting for the 1.45 See-Saw programme to start. Long-lost names such as Marian Foster, Bob Langley and Josephine Buchan presented, plus Magnus Magnusson joined the team for the final series following the death of Donny MacLeod. Peter Seabrook was in charge of the greenhouse; and wasn't the video for Su Pollard's 1986 hit 'Starting Together' filmed in the grounds of the Mill?!

The series was revived under such titles as Daytime Live and Scene Today, and finally as plain Pebble Mill with Alan Titchmarsh, Judi Spiers and regular contributions from the BBC Big Band. It won't be again, though - especially since the hallowed Pebble Mill building has been bulldozed!

There were several Pebble Mill spin-offs, particularly in the 1970s, such as the late night chat show Saturday Night at the Mill. In 1981 a kind of early evening version called Six Fifty-five Special surfaced during the Mill's summer break, meaning any hopes Donny and Marian had for a summer break as well were dashed when they found themselves presenting it. By 1983 Paul Coia (best known for Debbie Greenwood) and Tiswas graduate Sally James had taken over; the BBC had obviously decided it was no longer anything particularly Special about it, and the title was reduced to merely reflect its timeslot.


PLAY AWAY (BBC2 1971-84)

It really doesn't matter if it's raining or it's fine, just as long as you've got time, to P-L-A-Y, Play Away-way, Play Away, Play Away, Play Away, Play Away...

The comedy-based spin-off from Play School. Aimed at slightly older children, but featuring many of the PS regulars, such as Brian Cant, Carol Chell and Floella Benjamin (Jeremy Irons was also a presenter in the 70s), it was a riot of jokes, comedy, sketches and songs; music always came from Jonathan Cohen at the piano. Typical childish humour - how do cats go down the M1? Meeeeeiiiiooooowwww!!! Well I thought it was funny...

When it ended in 1984, Play Away was succeeded by Fast Forward.


PLAY SCHOOL (BBC2/1 1964-88)

The programme which unintentionally opened BBC2 in 1964.

In the early 80s it used the classic orange house titles, and green-framed windows - round, square and arched - and presenters included Fred Harris, Carol Chell, Floella Benjamin, Ben Thomas, Chloe Ashcroft and many others. There was also the large elaborate Play School clock, which introduced the day's story with something vaguely relating to the story in the lower half of the clock structure. (It was also the cause of the strike which scuppered the recording of the Doctor Who story 'Shada', but that's another story...) No need to mention the toys - we all remember them!

In the autumn of 1983 there was an attempt to move the times with a trendy revamp, which included a new theme tune, new set, new presenters and - horror of horrors - FOUR windows! Play School was replaced by Playbus/Playdays in 1988, and in the 2000s the spirit of Play School was revived with CBeebies' Tikkabilla, complete with windows and clock!


POP QUIZ (BBC1 1981-84, 1994, 2016-17)

Mike Read was everywhere in the early 80s - not only was he regularly presenting Saturday Superstore, Top of the Pops and the Radio 1 breakfast show, but he could also be seen hosting this Saturday teatime mullet-fest. Transmitted in an era dominated by the New Romantics and synthpop, the celebrity teams would invariably feature at least one member of Duran Duran, Ultravox and Spandau Ballet each week. Pop Quiz is probably best remembered, however, for the lyric round - history does not relate whether any of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's songs ever featured in this round...

A revival in 1994 saw Chris Tarrant make a rare foray across to the BBC to host, and another revival at Christmas 2016 saw Mike Read back in the chair for two all-80s specials. More, BBC, more!


PUZZLE TRAIL (BBC1 1980-84)

Children's puzzle game. The first series I can remember was the third, 1982, series with Tommy Boyd, which ran daily for two weeks and revolved around a search for hidden treasure. A year later Howard Stableford presented, and in 1984 ex-Monkee Davy Jones took charge.


RENTAGHOST (BBC1 1976-84)

Highly popular and incredibly long-running, Rentaghost was the king of childrens' sitcoms for eight years. The series began with ghosts Fred Mumford, Hubert Davenport and the mischevious jester Timothy Claypole returning from the spirit world and teaming up with wheeler dealer Harold Meaker to form an agency called Rentaghost. Further characters were added in the next few years, including spooks Hazel the McWitch, Tamara Novek and Nadia Popov; Harold's shrill voiced wife Ethel; and department store owner Adam Painting, which must stand as the highlight of Christopher Biggins's career.

From 1980, there was a change of emphasis. Davenport and the Mumford family left the series, and the set-up changed so that the action was now centered mainly around the Meakers and their domestic life. The Perkins were introduced as their bewildered neighbours, and the slapstick humour was increased. The series had entered its classic, best remembered period (indeed, where most repeat runs have concentrated on). Mr Claypole endeavoured to cause as much havoc as possible, both by himself, and with his robot Jeremy. Meanwhile Scandinavian ghost Nadia Popov, usually seen with 'Tiny Timothy' in hand, sneezed her through each episode and Dobbin the pantomine horse, who spoke only through speech bubbles, - while the long suffering Meakers had to put up with this constant mayhem around them. Yes, the gags were corny, and the visual effects must have looked dodgy even at the time, but it was all part of the fun.

But by the final series, which added Suzie Starlight, the actress posing as a cleaning lady who had an audience in her handbag, Rentaghost was looking tired. By putting a dragon in the Meakers' cellar (cue continual cries of "Don't go into the cellar!!") and ending each episode by having all the characters emerge from the cellar with soot covered faces, it was clear that the ideas had dried up and it was time to bring things to an end. Writer Bob Block returned a year later, however, with the somewhat less successful Galloping Galaxies.


ROOBARB (BBC1 1974-90)

Yes, yes, yes, it's really a 1970s show, but it was also repeated throughout the 80s. And contrary to popular belief, the show was NOT called 'Roobarb and Custard'; it was simply titled Roobarb. Everyone remembers the jangly tune (which formed the basis of a dance hit by Shaft in 1991), Richard Briers' narration and Roobarb himself, possibly the world's only green dog and his laid back neighbour Custard, possibly the world's only pink cat.

Debuting in October 1974, the show was created by animator Bob Godfrey and writer Grange Calveley. It marked a return to very basic animation techniques - no cells, composites or backgrounds, instead Godfrey simply drew the pictures onto sheets of paper using felt-tip pens. The resulting 'wobbling picture' effect became the show's most distinctive feature. Nine years later Godfrey returned with 'son of Roobarb' - Henry's Cat. Grange Calveley produced a further series, Roobarb and Custard Too!, in the mid-2000s which aired on Channel 5. The entire original series is available on DVD.


THE SECRET LIFE OF MACHINES (Channel 4 1988-93)

Boffin Tim Hunkin presented this light-hearted, but very educational, filmed series in which he attempted to explain how various household appliances work, most memorably the vacuum cleaner, television and sewing machine, by use of various home-built machines and models, archive clips, and simple but humorous cartoons - and not a computer graphic in sight. Tim was assisted by the daredevil Rex Garrod. The third series in 1993 was called The Secret Life of the Office. Would Channel 4 show such an educational programme in primetime today?


SCREEN TEST (BBC1 1970-84)

Presented by Michael Rodd in the 70s; Brian Trueman took over in 1979. The quiz show where school-age contestants would be asked observation questions about various film clips. It also included the Young Film Maker of the Year Competition. Severely dated by today's standards, although the show was revamped and modernised for its final 1984 series, with Mark Curry in charge.


STOPPIT AND TIDYUP (BBC1 1988-95)

Surreal cartoon series with a bizarre theme tune, set in the land of Do-As-You're-Told with gherkin-loving Tidyup with his neat house and garden, and Stoppit who lived on a rubbish dump. Most notable for being narrated by the great Terry Wogan.


TAKE HART (BBC1 1977-83)

Succeeding Vision On), this was a more focused art programme (its predecessor's wacky sketches were reborn on Jigsaw). Particularly remembered for those huge paintings on the wall, that you never knew what it was meant to be until he had almost finished. The gallery continued from Vision On, albeit with new music - in the early 80s, it was the sublime reggae-tinged 'Marguerite' by Bob Morgan and Steppin' Out. Comedy came from the caretaker Mr Bennett, and the animated character Morph, who later won his own show of Amazing Adventures into the bargain.

In 1984 Take Hart transmogrified into the jazzed up Hartbeat. Tony sadly died in 2009.


THAT WAS THE YEAR (BBC2 1983-84)

An original idea at the time, this series shown early evening on BBC2 presented historical events in the style of a modern day news bulletin. Each programme focused on a particular year in history - mainly those in which major events occured - and featured on-the-spot reports from the likes of John Craven in medieval dress, bringing us news of Columbus' discovery of America. Some thought it odd to bring us historical news from a modern studio set, with main presenter Chris Serle dressed in a modern suit. But the very contemporary-sounding theme tune was the best bit!


THINK OF A NUMBER (BBC1 1977-84)/THINK AGAIN(BBC1 1981-85)

Johnny Ball - the TV legend who made maths and science fun.

The maths-based Think of a Number, which began in 1977, had a studio audience, and some kind of mishap would befall Johnny at the end of each programme. Think Again, the science-based show, followed a few years later and was presented by Johnny from a pseudo-office set. Both shows had excellent theme tunes, especially the powerful electronic Think Again theme by Francis Monkman.

Later Johnny Ball 'Think' series included Think This Way in 1983 and Think It...Do It! circa 1987. He also co-presented the late 80s children's science series Knowhow, and then later presented a 'best of' his various series in about 1996. Zoe Ball may have mentioned once or twice that Johnny is her dad.


TOMORROW'S WORLD (BBC1 1965-2002)

Usually watched waiting for Top of the Pops to start, Tomorrow's World was a stalwart of the BBC1 evening schedule for 37 years (particularly Thursdays). Raymond Baxter, the jazzy theme tune and the 'toast' opening titles had all disappeared by the eighties. Now we had Maggie Philbin, Judith Hann, Peter McCann and Howard Stableford presenting from a set that had plain black and white backgrounds, and 'brain' opening titles. In 1985 the show received another revamp - and a fantastic new theme tune!

After losing its way in the 90s, the final series returned to the old-style 'live' format, but this wasn't enough to save it, and it was axed as an ongoing series in 2003.


TOP OF THE POPS (BBC1 1964-2006)

The early 1980s was a classic period for TOTP. The new decade, and the dawn of a new musical era, that of synthpop and the New Romantics, saw a new theme tune. No more 'Whole Lotta Love', we had Phil Lynott and Midge Ure coming together for 'Yellow Pearl', used as the show's theme from July 1981. The producers of the era tried to give the show a party atmosphere, with balloons and streamers all over the place and dancers behind the performers, while the likes of Duran Duran, Human League, Wham! and Nik Kershaw performed their hit records on the massive main stage - however thanks to Mike Read, Frankie Goes to Hollywood weren't allowed to.

TOTP sometimes broadcast live in the 1980s, which gave rise to some of the programme's most famous errors, including the singer from All About Eve's amazing ability to sing 'Martha's Harbour' without moving her lips; and then there was the time when Dexys Midnight Runners performed their hit 'Jackie Wilson Said' in front of a giant picture of darts player Jocky Wilson - which was not a mistake, but in fact a jolly jape by the band. Dave Lee Travis is still in the dark over that one...

Radio 1 DJs remained the main presenters of the programme, and a masterstroke was made by employing John Peel as a regular. Normally paired with Kid Jensen, the two of them would often indulge in dressing up in silly costumes and Peel would have great fun with his deadpan introductions, in which he would gently mock groups he wouldn't be seen dead playing on his Radio 1 show. But by the end of the 1980s, the charts were getting ever more kiddie-orientated with the proliferation of Stock Aitken and Waterman music, and in response to this TOTP employed children's presenters like Andy Crane, Anthea Turner and Simon Parkin. But this was nothing compared to the changes in 1991 - when, horror of horrors, everyone had to sing live!

Although no longer running as an ongoing programme, TOTP still returns for its annual Christmas and New Year specials, but of greater interest to 80s fans are the BBC4 repeats, which began in 2011 with episodes from 1976 and have continued ever since, making it well into the 80s! See the latest episodes on BBC iPlayer.


TOTTIE - THE STORY OF A DOLL'S HOUSE (BBC1 1984-88)

One of the last children's series from Smallfilms (Clangers/Bagpuss/Ivor the Engine etc), this mid-80s animation was an altogether much darker affair. Based on the books by Rumer Gooden, the initial set-up appears quite innocuous - central character Tottie was a little wooden Dutch doll, who shared her house with her 'family' - Mr Plantagenet, a man-doll with a china face; Apple, a boy-doll made of plush; and Birdie, the mother of the family, who was made of celluloid. However the tone became rather too morbid when the villain of the piece, a porcelain doll named Marchpane, murdered Birdie by setting her on fire, and no doubt upsetting many small children in the process.

A second series, Tottie - The Doll's Wish, was transmitted in 1986, but both series lacked the enduring appeal of Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin's earlier creations.


TREASURE HUNT (Channel 4 1982-89, BBC2 2002-03)

Channel 4 was barely on air before one of its best known programmes took to the air (quite literally!). Treasure Hunt is invariably best remembered for the jumpsuited 'skyrunner' Anneka Rice, as filmed by Graham Berry the cameraman as he raced after her on the way to finding another clue, and then back to the helicopter, piloted by Keith Thompson - both of whom managed to become minor celebrities themselves on the show.

In contrast to the breathless Annie, former BBC newsman Kenneth Kendall remained cool-headed back at base as he guided two contestants through the five cryptic clues on their way to a thousand pound prize. In 1985 (the same year that Channel 4 finally arrived in my area!) TV-am's Wincey Willis joined the team, to stand aloof by her map in the corner of the studio and track the helicopter's progress.

By 1989 Anneka had left for her own, similarly frantic series at the BBC, Challenge Anneka, and her place was taken by tennis player Annabel Croft - by which time Treasure Hunt's days were numbered. It was briefly revived by BBC2 with a similiar authoritative newsreader/frantic female combination of Dermot Murnaghan and Suzi Perry. Keith the pilot somehow managed to survive, but the Wincey Willis role was replaced by a satellite tracking device. Such is progress...


TREVOR AND SIMON Going Live! (1987-91, 1992-93), Live and Kicking (1993-97)

Often regarded as the pinnacle of the BBC's Saturday morning shows, the launch of Going Live! in 1987 introduced a new key element - comedy. Though its predecessor Saturday Superstore had dabbled in comedy, with their own soap opera set at the Crow's Road motel, Going Live! took things a stage further by bringing in their own in-house comedy double act - Trevor and Simon. And apart from a years' break in 1991-92, they remained a fixture of Saturday mornings for a whole decade.

Many of their sketches involved embarrassing that week's show's celebrity guests, most notably in the Singing Corner ("Swing Your Pants!"). Other recurring sketches included Theatre Shop with Robin and Ray; the wheeling-and-dealing Sister Brothers; A Sofa for Two with Three; the Driving Test; the Open University spoof Encyclomedia; Looniversity Challenge; Art For 'Em; Blimey That's Good!; the shopping channel PVC; and their various shops - Ken and Eddie Kennedy's barbers, the dry cleaners The Draper Brothers ("We don't do duvets!") and the record shop ("We don't do discs!").

In 1993, when Going Live! became Live and Kicking, Trevor and Simon were given their own chance to put their own unique stamp on the video vote slot with the Video Garden, Video Goldmine, Video Galleon and Video Grand Prix. For their final year of L&K, rather than having their sketches distributed liberally throughout the programme, the duo found themselves shoehorned into a self-contained slot, Transmission Impossible, which was repeated on Thursday evenings. As with their earlier one-off special in 1995, The Trevor and Simon Summer Special, this did not show the duo in their best light. Added to the fact that they have hardly been heard of on television since, perhaps it's true to say they needed Saturday mornings as much as Saturday mornings needed them.


TURNABOUT (BBC1 1990-96)

All right, I know, it's not an 80s show at all. But it was a good fun daytime quiz show with a wacky theme tune and gameplay which was similar in many ways to the Beat the Teacher noughts and crosses board, although this time it was computer generated spheres, which changed colours three ways for the three contestants. Long time London Plus/Newsroom South East regular Rob Curling was the host.


ULTRA QUIZ (ITV 1983-85)

Coming to us courtesy of TVS, this was a large-scale elimination game show for summer Saturday evenings. Hosted by Michael Apsel, and based on a Japanese concept, the first episode on Brighton Beach saw the initial 1,000 contestants quickly reduced to 200 through a series of true and false questions. Subsequent programmes came from locations ranging from the Mid-Hants Railway to Paris to Hong Kong, where various games and challenges gradually whittled the contestants down until there were two remaining in the studio-bound final episode. The winner bagged £1,000 - his prize was released from the studio wall, made up of a thousand pound coins.

Two further series saw David Frost and then Stu Francis (yes, really!) take charge. Not seen since 1985, but the Ultra Quiz seems just the kind of format that will probably get revived at some point, if not necessarily in name.


WHY DON'T YOU..? (BBC1 1973-95)

Possibly the only television programme ever which advised its viewers not to watch television, Why Don't You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go Off and Do Something Less Boring Instead was a fixture of children's programming in the school holidays for over 20 years. In its heyday, the 1980s, it was shown every morning throughout the holidays. Several Why Don't You..? gangs based at various BBC regional centres - usually Bristol, Cardiff, Newcastle or Belfast - would bring us ideas for activities, and games to play during the long holidays.

For what it's worth, Ant McPartlin, of Dec and Ant fame, was a member of the Newcastle gang in 1988. At around the same time, the show seemed to start taking on more of a comedy/drama slant. I remember the Cardiff gang's stints circa 1988/89 taking this to new heights with the 'things to do' concept becoming almost submerged beneath the plotlines, and the children began to become characters in their own right. After reverting to its original format, Why Don't You..? finally fizzled out in the mid 90s.


WILLO THE WISP (BBC1 1981-87)

Great animation, a stalwart of the 5.35 slot in the early 80s. Willo the Wisp him/itself was a caricature of Kenneth Williams, who provided its voice. But aside from introducing each episode, the character played little further part in the story, and the action instead turned to Arthur, the talkative caterpillar who dreamt of becoming a moth; Mavis Cruet, the overweight fairy who couldn't fly; The Moog, the incredibly dense dog; and the scary Evil Edna, the television set-shaped witch, which I found easily the most frightening thing on television!

Willo the Wisp became the weekly comic strip in the Radio Times in 1982, and was revived on television in 2005. The original series is available on DVD.


YOU AND ME (BBC1/2 1974-95)

If you're the same age as me, you won't consider the Cosmo and Dibs/UB40 theme tune era to be the 'real' You and Me. Before 1983 this pre-school series would typically be centered round Alice the hamster and Crow the crow, who were animated using the stop-frame technique; alternatively you may have bumped into Duncan the Dragon, or even Purrfecta and Mr Bits and Pieces.

In this era the programme started with a more upbeat acoustic theme tune, and a title sequence which showed building blocks spinning round to spell out the programme title. The true 1980s You and Me experience, of course, always had to begin with watching two minutes' worth of music and a static slide showing the aforementioned building blocks.


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Links

For more televisual nostalgia, try the following websites:
TV Ark
TV Cream
Kids TV
Little Gems
80s Cartoons


Text copyright © Robert Williams, images copyright © the respective broadcasters